The Coaching Carousel is a series of articles where I go over what each NBA team with a head coaching vacancy is looking for in their next head coach, what teams are saying about who they want to hire, and ultimately who I think would be the best fit for each job.
Cv The Indiana Pacers relieved Nate McMillan of his head coaching duties after being swept out of the first round of the playoffs for the third time in his four seasons as head coach. In fact, in his four seasons at the helm the Pacers were able to make it to the post season, but never out of the first round. While head coach, he was 183-136 which gives McMillan the third most wins in franchise history. Many think he did as good as could be expected with and oft injured roster filled with solid players, but no true superstar thanks to the devastating injury to Victor Oladipo in early 2019. None of that is here nor there; this is about what and who the Indiana Pacers should be looking for as their next head coach.
What the Pacers are Saying
First of all, Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers front office made it very clear they weren’t happy with McMillan’s inability to get the Pacers out of the first round of the playoffs. They cited his 3-16 playoff record in their statement as to why he was let go. This should signal to any coaching candidates that the Pacers believe they have the pieces they need to make a run in the playoffs. They have publicly stated that should he become available, Mike D’Antoni would be at the top of their list of targets. They have also said that they could go in a different direction and look at a pool of what the team called “program builders” for a long term overhaul of this team.
It sounds like the front office is sending mixed signals with their public statements. The thinking behind a hire like D’Antoni has to be that Victor Oladipo could become his new James Harden. A ball dominant combo guard who can shoot it well enough and attack the rim. The Pacers have a roster built to run a style of offense similar to what Houston runs now, loaded with shooters like Doug McDermott, Justin and Aaron Holiday, and TJ Warren. They even have the perfect stretch 5 who can also protect the rim in Myles Turner. It may be an unpopular move, but moving someone like Sabonis could net them a good return as he wouldn’t be a good fit in D’Antoni’s small ball system next to Turner.
On the other hand, Pritchard has said the organization is ready for substantial change, and that they would look at a pool of “program builders.” Read that as the organization could realize they have maximized what they can do with this roster and decide to go into a rebuild. If they go this route, it would likely be based on the idea that Victor Oladipo either isn’t the player he was before the injury, or that he is leaving in free agency and won’t resign with the team. If this is the case, they could expedite a rebuild by trading Oladipo and Turner, stockpiling draft picks, and bringing in a head coach who would prioritize player development. If they go this route, there is a long list of names they could look at to lead them through a period of change and roster overhaul. They could go with a first time coach who could bring fresh perspective to Indiana, or someone with experience leading a young roster. Think Sam Cassell, Brett Brown, or Alvin Gentry.
What Everyone Else is Saying
A quick google search of Pacers coaching search will net you results ranging from fan favorite Mark Jackson to the long shot Becky Hammon from San Antonio. The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Reputable sources have named Jackson, D’Antoni, Kenny Atkinson, and Jason Kidd. According to sources and the history of the team under current ownership the Simons, Indiana does not find a full-on rebuild palatable and won’t commit to the kind of losing it takes to acquire a star at the top of the draft. Another factor is that Indianapolis is a smaller market and is considered less desirable by free agents. Also, If you look throughout the history of this franchise you’ll see that the Pacers have a history of making splashy, big name hires like Larry Bird, Larry Brown, McMillan, and Rick Carlisle.
What the Pacers Should do
Knowing that a full on rebuild is likely off the table, coupled with the fact that the organization has openly said they think this roster should have been able to compete in the playoffs, I really think an established offensive-minded coach is the right move for the Pacers. That’s why I think Mike D’Antoni is the right choice for this Pacers team. Oladipo could take the next step in D’Antoni’s offense as his new Harden, and they could surround him with a lineup of Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, Jeremy Lamb, and Turner and bring in McDermott, the Holidays, and whoever they get in a trade for Sabonis off the bench. Or if they covet Sabonis inside scoring and rebounding over rim protection they could get significant value for Turner.
The roster just makes too much sense in D’Antoni’s system. Add that to the fact they have already spoken publicly about their desire to hire him, and the fact that management was confident this roster could compete this season and Mike D’Antoni would both appease fans desire for a more modern offense and management’s intention on bringing in a proven, winning coach.
Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP
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